in which Bear Pond Books lives up to its name

August 7th, 2008 | Uncategorized

holly at bear pond

Well, it’s very odd how everyone was talking about Mary Oliver on the last post. Because this afternoon I walked into Bear Pond Books in Montpelier VT, and immediately noticed that something strange was going on. People were moving in an odd, urgent way…then I saw that the roof was leaking. Right on the poetry section. And the next thing I knew, someone had thrust a stack of Mary Oliver books into my arms. I ferried them to the other side of the shop and went back for more.

Everyone was pitching in and it was kind of chaotic. And the leak kept getting worse and worse, from a drip to a rivulet to many rivulets, then spreading from poetry to politics, until it seemed like it was raining as hard inside as it was outside–torrential sheets of rain.

The booksaving efforts started to seem a little hopeless when the puddle on the floor started overtaking the stacks we’d already moved. It was pretty horrifying, watching all these lovely volumes–art books, hardcovers, the beautiful editions of poetry–get basically ruined. I think everyone was a little bit in shock.

I know it seems callous, but I had my camera with me so I took some video footage. It shows the leak before it got really bad, then when it had gotten much worse. See Holly carrying books at the end and looking stricken?

Eventually it started to abate. We were just getting ready to leave, all soaked, when the fire department guy came in to explain that the sewer had backed up in the sudden downpour, and a toilet somewhere upstairs had just started erupting. God.

In about twenty minutes, the store had gone from normal to this.


The streaky parts aren’t actually rain, just blurriness from a slow exposure. But it sorta felt the way the picture looks. In fact, sort of the way the whole summer has felt here in Vermont. It’s been pouring every day for as long as I can remember.
I feel really bad for the Bear Pond folks. But it was kind of cool experience, everyone pitching in like that. I’m going to order a big fat expensive book from them now online, which earlier I had decided I couldn’t afford.

43 Responses to “in which Bear Pond Books lives up to its name”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The best (and saddest) part of the little film was the people filing past the camera looking bereft, victims emerging from a disaster site.

    Strange to see that, however well we know the emotional attachments we form to books, the shock and grief we feel at their literal destruction is very real.

    I remember when I was ten dropping (and ruining) a very cherished 1901 edition of Alice in Wonderland, completely fucking up all of the beautiful illustrations. If the tearful night I spent (and the subsequent years of wincing and flinching at the memory) is anything to go by, I doubt I would have the constitution for such a scene of water-logged carnage.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The book was dropped in a bathtub, I should have made clear. It’s still one of my favourite places to read, but I learned the hard way of its risks.

  3. Bookbird says:

    Oh no!

    It’s such a wonderful store!

    Will they be able to salvage anything? Or at least have enough insurance to stay in business?

    I go to Bear Pond every time I’m in Vermont, a couple of times a year–I’ll be there next week. If they’re open I’ll buy some books, if not stand outside in sorrowful respect and regret.

  4. *tania says:

    oh man, montpelier was so rainy when i was there too!

    the good news is that because a toilet caused the flood, not just torrential rain, i think their insurance will cover the damages. the same thing happened to us at the theater, where during a massive rainstorm, a styrofoam cup got caught in the roof gutter and started a horrible chain reaction that ended with 2 feet of water filling most of the first floor. if it hadn’t been for the cup, we would’ve been up shit creek.

    or rather, we were up shit creek but we had lots of paddles.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The same thing happened to my dad, who owns an antiquarian bookstore on the floor below a fish stand (Pike Place Market in Seattle). A pipe backed up and hundreds of gallons of fishy water inundated his store. It was oddly heartbreaking for me (in my first year away at college!) to go back and see all the beautiful antique books and images, many of which I remembered from childhood visits with my dad in his shop, ruined.

    The worst part is he’d let his insurance lapse.

  6. I’m sure Bear Pond will be fine–I didn’t mean to make it sound worse than it is. The whole store wasn’t trashed, just some of the books.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I suspect they have insurance. I hope they do, anyway.

  8. amccluskey says:

    I love that bookstore. When I visited Vermont from Oregon I bought a book about a family with two mommies for my son there. I hope they are able to recover quickly and aren’t too traumatized.

  9. Blushing Girl says:

    Mary Oliver’s books were ruined by a plugged toilet? Now, the store will have to be renamed “Black Water Pond”. Let’s all hum along to the Doobie Brothers…

  10. April says:

    Oh I’m so sad for them!
    I remember how devastated I was when my bag, containing Mists of Avalon – the first and finest gift from my beloved – got hosed at work. And that was *one* book! Kept the book, in 3 pieces, still read it that way. Sigh.

  11. April says:

    oh, and Blushing Girl, now I know why you blush…icky mind…

  12. The Cat Pimp says:

    What a deluge! That was a great bunch of people, pitching in like that and saving the books.

  13. Pam I says:

    There’s nothing worse than the smell of slowly decaying damp books. I worked for a book/pamphlet distributor (PDC, oldies) which had a fire, the fire damage was slight but the sprinklers which saved all our lives hit just about every one of the thousands and thousands of books on the shelves. We had to keep trading, as periodicals kept having to go out, meanwhile it took two months to sort it out. We had a Dirty Book Sale, which cleared a lot of the splashed/warped stock and attracted a few unsavory buyers who clearly had no sense of irony.

    Commiserations to Bear Pond Books, I feel your pain.
    Insurance covered some of our loss, but not the psychic cost. This was matched by the whole lefty publishing community pitching in to help over that stinky few weeks.

    There’s a photo of me that night in mid-stacks holding up a sodden copy of International Times with the headline “Anything can happen in the next half hour”. How we laughed.

  14. Eva says:

    Oh no. Thanks for posting this. I’ll go down and see how they’re doing later this morning (it’s only 7:30am now). Books are precious. I can only imagine how stricken everyone must have been.

    I’m in there several times each week, an easy walk as I live in Montpelier. Got my Fun Home (first edition, hard cover!) signed by Alison there two years ago. Plus Lynda Barry’s “One Hundred Demons” and “What It Is”. And many many other volumes over the years.

    I hope they’re doing ok.

  15. Maggie Jochild says:

    For those of you who might care, a terrible auto accident involving a van carrying women from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to the airport has killed one woman and injured other of the 14 survivors. The woman killed is Lynn J. Marshall, 56, from Sumner, Washington. Her sister, lover and children were still at the festival.

    For more details, you can read my post here or go to the MWMF boards here.

    I’m burning a candle and sending them all love.

  16. Anonymous 1, is this the book you dropped in the tub?


    We always had this around when I was growing up. It’s very beautiful, with the crisp Tenniel illustrations. But I took it for granted just because it was always there. Then many years later I was watching re-runs of Thirtysomething. In the episode where Gary gets killed, he had just given this book to Melissa, this exact edition.

    Mine is inscribed in pencil, “To Nellie from her friend Miss Lydie.”

  17. Kate L says:

    My sympathies to the bookstore staff and customers. On those rare occasions when I have to throw out a book, I feel guilty just on general principle. And I feel A.B.’s pain about videotaping all this. I happened to be in Dealy Plaza, Dallas, on November 23, 1963 (twenty-four hours after President Kennedy was murdered there). I had the family brownie movie camera with me, and I filmed the hysterical people who were still in the streets. I felt badly about filming people in distress, but I did it anyway. (Yes, I’m THAT old).

  18. Cheryl says:

    Okay, while we are on the subject of books, I am trying to remember the title of book I read about on Amazon, about a women who looked up, tracked down and met five people she had relationships with, and how she and they had changed in the intervening years. It had really good reviews, I thought I had jotted the title down, but can’t find it my little slip of paper. I am wondering if this rings any bells with any of you book lovers out there …

  19. rebecca wire says:

    off-topic, but – I just read a article on Michelle Obama talking to military wives, which also addresses the broader issue of her likability:

    “What Obama’s not so good at is the unblinking eye of the TV camera. Her humor is heartfelt — but can be sarcastic. While Bill Clinton won over crowds with his “I feel your pain” empathy, Michelle Obama is more likely to get indignant. She’s the friend who slams her hand down on the table with an “I can’t believe they did that.”

    It works in person. But without context, it can sound like complaining.”

    Does anyone else now feel like Clarice is running for office?

  20. Lizen says:

    I know how heart wrenching it is to see books ruined! My parents owned independent book stores while I was growing up and we had floods a couple of times. It was like losing friends! And it was like a battle to save the ones we could.

    Then the publishers asked us to send only the covers back for returned books. We all felt awful when we had to rip off those covers and throw the rest away. I think that marked the turning of the tide in the book industry being run by people who loved and respected books.

    Only independent bookstore lovers get this kind of grief, I think. Support your local indie!!

  21. --MC says:

    Even though they’re chuckleheaded action-adventurers and dimbulb romances with titles like “The Italian Sheik’s Pregnant Virgin Mistress”, I still get a cold wave of despair when I see a pile of paperbacks with the covers torn off, sitting next to the dumpster behind the Rite Aid.
    I hope Bear Pond can recoup. I’m tempted just to fling a twenty into an envelope and mail it to them.

  22. Eva says:

    I went downtown earlier today to check out Bear Pond Books. I think they’re going to be ok. It’s true that they lost some books, but otherwise it looks like there wasn’t any damage to the ceiling, walls, bookshelves or floor. They had a couple of dehumidifiers in there, and the book cases under the leak (deluge?) were mostly empty. But they probably won’t be that way for long. I can’t throw away books either – it just feels WRONG – but it is interesting that it was poetry and politics that got a wash, isn’t it?

    MC – go ahead and send that twenty. Community support is what it’s all about.

    Meanwhile, basements flooded overnight all over the rest of downtown, including the beloved Downstairs Video/Savoy Theater. If anyone wants to fling any more twenties in the mail DV/Savoy is a member supported business and would deeply appreciate the contribution! When I went by this afternoon there was a sign on the door that said: “Closed until 5pm (or 10am Sat. at the latest) to clean up from the flood.”

  23. Eva says:

    P.S. I told them at the bookstore that I saw the video (and wanted to see how they were doing) – the clerk laughed and said “We’re famous now – we’re on Alison Bechdel’s blog!”

  24. Duncan says:

    rebecca wire — I don’t watch much TV, but it sounds like *I* would find Michelle Obama likable. And though I’m not an Obama supporter, it bothers me a great deal that so much of the coverage is devoted to whether the candidate, or his wife, is likable. It may be that that is what most voters care about, but I think it’s more of an obsession of the corporate media.

  25. Blushing Girl says:

    True, April… I can get “little boy” icky sometimes, but I was blushing in delight at my reference to Mary Oliver’s beloved Black Water Pond!

  26. Ginjoint says:

    Rebecca Wire, great insight! I can completely see the correlation between Michelle Obama and Clarice, but never would’ve picked up on it myself.

    Alluding to a previous post here, a couple of nights ago I saw Melissa Etheridge – worth all 103 bucks. Between songs, she did a review of her life so far; her description of her relationship with the co-mother of her first two children (I don’t even want to type her name! How bitter and childish is that?) was hysterical.

  27. Lisa (Calico) says:

    Oh gosh – what a shame. Good on you both to help.
    This certainly isn’t the first time Monpelier has been washed out. Many little businesses have been practically ruined by rain and flooding.
    BTW, Is the Horn of the Moon café still open? (I think I’ve been to Mont. only twice since 1992.)

  28. Anonymous says:

    Wow, not exactly that one but close enough. The whole cover motif is the same, except mine had Alice in the ‘you’re nothing but a pack of cards’ scene inside the oval. Thanks for digging it out!

    I don’t remember mine having an inscription. I just remember thinking it was weird for my family to have it since they weren’t bookish and didn’t really read much fiction at all.

  29. Eva says:

    Lisa (Calico), The Horn of the Moon closed a little over seven years ago. Ironically (or is it high camp?) a shoe store moved into the same location called The Shoe Horn, not long after it closed. The original owner of the cafe, Ginny Callen, (who sold the business something like 10 years before it closed) was a formidable individual and an early animal rights activist who obstained from wearing leather shoes.

  30. Dr. Empirical says:

    Wow, Alison, that’s a treasure!

    Tenniel was probably the first artist to make me say “Wow! Who drew that?” and check the indicia in the front of the book.

    I just love the Jabberwock’s waistcoat.

  31. CS says:

    As someone who gets nauseous from seeing books in garbage cans this is positively traumatizing.

  32. shadocat says:

    Wow, the look on Holl’s face says it all—so sad to see all the beautiful books destroyed, but good to know the bookstore was not!

  33. Martha C says:

    This reminds me of Pride here in Arizona about 6 years ago. I was working at the Obelisk booth (when it had an AZ branch) and the sky went from windy to downpour. Half of us were keeping the booth from blowing over long enough so that everyone else could grab the books and throw them into bags and run to their cars with them. Needless to say, I didn’t have a ride home that day, on acount of my seat beeing taken up by the books we had to get back to the store. I ended up spending the day in the library (which was next to the festival) until someone could come back for me.

  34. cybercita says:


    i got hold of an advance copy of the state by state book. your submission is lovely!

  35. jvwalt says:

    Just to reassure the far and near friends of Bear Pond, the damage was not as bad as it might have seemed. A few hundred books were lost to the water, and a few hundred more were very slightly impaired (and are being sold for 25% off during a post-flood sale). But otherwise, the store continues on its merry way. In fact, BPB celebrated its 35th anniversary today (Monday 8/11). Going strong, and on track for many more years.

  36. Ian says:

    That’s good news from Bear Pond.

    Something to cheer everyone up – I think I’ve found the ultimate LOLcatz (on a t-shirt):

    This is not a gratuitous product placement! I just think it’s fab!

  37. RedRosie says:

    In response to rebecca wire’s post:
    Michelle Obama – of the huge pearls and huge salary jumps post her husband’s Senate victory, and the active participant and beneficiary of slumlord and felon Tony Rezko’s largesse – is no Clarice, not on her best day or Clarice’s worst. And yes, I’m voting for the man come November – because I believe in the “least worst” rule for politics but let’s not romanticize at the expense of the truth, please.

  38. Pam I says:

    @ Ian – great t-shirts but too much choice. I think I’ll start with the People’s Front of Judea. And it’s in England, just when I was wondering about postage.

  39. Ian says:

    Pam I – naturally I will be wearing the Judean People’s Front shirt and be completely ideologically opposed … 😉

  40. Pam I says:

    Romani Ite Domum !

  41. rebecca wire says:

    to clarify – I meant no political statement! I just thought it was an amusing anecdote. So yes, likability and political suitability can be different. And wouldn’t it be great if the coverage patterns were reversed? Alas, it’s often not corporate media that fall short as much as the shallow level of most people’s watercooler conversations. They remember the gossipy stuff, so it gets talked about, and thus gets more follow-up coverage. Sigh.

  42. Feminista says:

    New subject–remember the plug earlier in the spring to see The Hollywood Librarian? Well,I saw it for free last night at,guess what,a branch of my public library.

    Good history of the library profession and interviews with contemporary librarians interspersed with clips from Hollywood movies from the last 60 years. Also noted is the efforts librarians have made to preserve freedom of access to controversial material.

    Remember Michael Moore’s line (paraphrasing her): Librarians are subversive,man! (referring to a small town Ohio librarian who insisted on ordering one of his books despite efforts to censor them.

    I half expected to see a panel of Mo at her reference desk,keeping the public informed and educated,still dressed in her striped shirt.

  43. NGS says:

    But sometimes, a library being destroyed preserves works that might have otherwise been lost.